“I’m better off fighting empty hand”
For me there are probably no sadder words for a black belt to utter, however I believe for the vast majority of martial artists this is true. Often times this comes during a discussion where the scenario is posed that the person is faced with an attacker, the threat is real and dangerous and they have a weapon available such as an edged or impact weapon, excluding a gun of course. I have talked with and seen instructors who will demonstrate dropping the weapon and assuming a sparring type stance when given this scenario. Now this isn’t about a higher moral code that they must do karate and karate is an empty hand system; rather it is because they feel most confident in their empty hand skills and they feel unconfident with a weapon.
However if they were allowed a gun, even if they weren’t familiar with a gun they would take the gun because of its vast superiority of empty hand defense. This is so backwards thinking. In a stressful situation they believe they would be able to draw their gun, get the safety off, chamber a round, point and shoot with no or minimal training. Consider that it has been proven that an assailant can generally get to a person (even trained to use a gun) in 20 feet or less before they can deploy their gun for their defense.
I believe this stems from an over trained mindset that gives martial artists the idea that everything happens as it does in the dojo. When it comes to using a stick or a knife in a defensive situation generally martial artists think of in terms of a stick or knife fight a duel so to speak. Generally speaking when we (martial artists) practice one steps (application drills) in our (as in most public ) dojo, it is with our partner getting into a stance and then attacking as we defend against one or two strikes as if it were a duel. This is for safety sake so the person doesn’t attack when their partner isn’t ready and an accident happens. But attacks on the streets don’t follow those rules like in a dojo, we aren’t allowed to stretch, to warm up, to square off with the attacker and give him the permission to attack when we are good and ready etc. etc. Like wise because the gun is a projectile weapon that is generally not taught in martial art dojos; we don’t think of having to deploy the gun as in terms of a gun battle; with shots possibly going on around us, or a person with a knife charging at us etc. etc.
The simple fact is when faced with an attack we’re not dueling, we are fighting to protect our lives. The impact weapon or the edged weapon used in a self defense situation is generally a tool; a common item from the picked up from the surrounding environment, not a fighting weapon carried on the person. We (martial artists) should train to use weapons that are on us, or in our surrounding areas. For instance the weapons of the pioneers, or mountain men of old were single shot firearms and what tools they had on them at the time. For instance some pioneers carried hatchets and knives on them that helped them cut wood, skin and eat their meat, and basically help them to survive in a harsh world. If faced with an adversary who is charging towards them, they wouldn’t, if they missed with the single shot bullet, throw down their knives and hatchets to try and face them with nothing because they were considered just tools. Instead if they missed with the first shot they might use the gun to try and club them, or perhaps toss the gun to the ground to draw the knife and the hatchet to fight them off. They knew that to survive when their life depended upon it they used whatever was available to help them win. They knew this, they accepted this, their lives depended upon this mindset, it was plain common sense.
From 1988-90 there was a show on TV that stared Samo Hung where he played a LEO from China called Martial Law. One of the great things about this show was the fight scenes, Samo Hung would use any and everything to fight the villain with. If they were in the kitchen he used pots, pans, kitchen utensils you name it he used it, if in a room they used lamps, chairs etc. etc. This is the mentality we as martial artists should have. Use what is available and what gets the job done, again this is common sense.
Today though with all of our training in the martial arts, sometimes we don’t have the settler’s mindset, sometimes we don’t have even common sense. Rather we have a false sense of security in our training in the dojo that we can defeat anyone or stand a better chance at survival if I disregard any items that might help me survive and face down a potential threat empty handed because I take karate or Tae Kwon Do or Kung Fu.
Instructors need to consider this as well; think about what example you are setting for your students. You are in effect saying that your empty hand skills are superior (and in a sense telling them by proxy that their empty hand skills will be too) so you don’t need to rely on anything but your empty hands. When in fact what you should be teaching them is; to use whatever is available, to use whatever stacks the deck in their favor so they can come home to their families and their loved ones.
This type of thinking, this type of mind set, forces us out of our comfort zone. In the dojo you are in control of the perfect world. You know exactly the right steps to take to off balance the attacker, you are stepping on the comfortable mat that provides you the sure footing, you have the attacker that is only going to attack you with a prearranged attack when you say so and so on. In the dojo life is good, we always win and the opponent never fights back, basically it is a fantasy. If as an instructor you feel more confident facing down an armed adversary with knife, empty handed, instead of say; grabbing a back pack, using a trash can lid, grabbing a tire iron, a mop or a broom, a pan of hot water off of the stove etc. etc. I believe that you need some more self defense scenario based training.